March 31, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Checking up on the work of Food for the Poor in Haiti

John F. FinkIn 1993, I went to Haiti with Food for the Poor (FFP), and saw the conditions in the poorest country in this hemisphere. Since then, FFP has become an important foundation that is doing wonders for the poor, especially in this hemisphere.

One really has to see Haiti’s poverty to realize how bad it is. The worst place was, and probably still is, Cite de Soleil (Sun City), the eight-miles-by-three-miles slum that was inhabited by half a million people. They lived in tin shacks in a sea of sludge. There were millions of mosquitoes floating in or flying around the sludge. The people lived with their pigs and goats.

We visited a maternity hospital in Cite de Soleil. It was an abomination. Women in labor sat on wooden benches until they were ready to deliver. Then they were taken into the delivery room. We didn’t see the delivery room, but we were standing right outside a swinging door and could hear the cries and yells of the women giving birth.

The wards were filled with new mothers and their babies, 10 to 15 women and babies to a room. Forty-one doctors worked in this hospital, and they delivered about 1,000 babies a month. The infant mortality rate was about 10 percent, and the mothers’ mortality rate about 4 percent.

We visited two schools in Cite de Soleil, one of them financed by Food for the Poor. I’m generous, though, in calling it a school; it was more of a day care center. I’m not sure the kids were learning to read and write, but they were kept off the streets.

We also stopped at a feeding operation operated by FFP. Elderly and sick people and destitute families brought their pails or two-quart pans. There were tubs full of flavored rice and more tubs of a bean mixture. The people took this home to feed their families. This feeding station fed 700 families a day, but it must have been a terribly monotonous diet.

We visited a home for malnourished babies operated by St. Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity. It was one of the most emotional stops on our tour. Eight of Mother Teresa’s sisters operated this home, and there were 104 babies—extremely malnourished or suffering from AIDS. We learned that about 80 percent of the babies brought to them survived. FFP supplied baby food, diapers and medical supplies for the home.

Another slum had another home operated by the Missionaries of Charity, this one for the dying and the destitute. The sisters had four other homes for the dying, and three other homes for children in Haiti. In all, there were 35 Missionaries of Charity in Haiti in 1993; I don’t know how many might be there today.

In the home for the dying that we visited, seven sisters were caring for 160 people—about 90 men and 70 women. The people were found on the streets or they were brought to them. Two of the women I talked to told me that they were dix-neuf and dix-huit respectively (19 and 18 years old).

(John Fink’s recent series of columns on Church history is now available in book form from Amazon. It is titled How Could This Church Survive? with the subtitle, It Must Be More Than a Human Institution.)

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